It’s almost time for the tech careers night of the year, #HIGHER17. Ahead of our flagship event, we spoke to Shilpa Apte, Engineering Manager at SurveyMonkey to find out what it’s really like to work as an engineer and what talent can expect from her keynote at HIGHER.
Tell us about your role
As Engineering Manager, my day-to-day can involve coding, meetings with product managers and other stakeholders around tech components, one-on-ones with my team to share feedback and there’s obviously a lot of research too!
What’s your favourite element of your role?
I really love people management, that’s kind of what led me to the role in the first place. I’ve always been a people person and I think about people things all day. How they’re feeling, if they’re happy, if they they’re maximising contribution and enjoy what they’re doing. I really like having a holistic view of what the team is working on each day. When you’re an individual contributor you get to be deeply involved in a piece of what the team is doing but as a manager you get to see all the different pieces come together and lead your team to success. That’s much more engaging for me.
What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
One of the unique challenges of working on our team in its early stages is that we’re relying on and coordinating with a lot of teams internationally, we have offices in Sydney, Ottawa, Ireland and across the States so the time difference can be difficult. You need to strike the balance between being accommodating and also trying to shift the mindset so that others can be accommodating for you.
Does that come into play when you’re looking to build out the team?
Definitely, new hires need to be really collaborative and communicative because things can get lost in translation when you can’t talk in person. Beyond that we look for really solid coding skills so that you can be an independent worker and self sufficient within the team.
And what are your current hiring plans?
We’re hiring a few engineers by the end of the year and we’ll have a dedicated project manager too. Beyond that, it’s kind of dependent on the success of the team.
What’s the culture like at SurveyMonkey beyond your team?
Very collaborative and cross-functional, people are very open minded and they really like socialising with other people at work. I really like being in the office. Like we have work from home days and I really feel sometimes like I just want to be in the office and go hang out with my coworkers.
Why did you decide you wanted to work in tech?
I was one of those lost undergrads for two years – I came into college thinking I was going to do pre med, then I bounced around I was going to do a psych major and then I was going to do material science and then I finally settled on product design which is similar to mechanical engineering. I took the computer science module as an introduction to this other major. I really liked it and decided this is what I want to do. Then, I interned with SurveyMonkey and loved it. After about a year of working as an engineer I started thinking about what my next career goal was. I knew I liked being an individual contributor but I saw myself being more interested in people management. I started talking with my manager about how we could work towards that goal.
Is there good communication between different departments in SurveyMonkey?
Definitely. People aren’t afraid to give an opinion and when an opinion is given, it’s valued. When we come to a decision we act quickly on it. I think it makes for a great work environment. People are pretty flexible and open so if you make a mistake it’s ok to admit that you made one. Failure is celebrated as much as success and that’s company wide.
Why do you think that is?
I think it comes from leadership within the company. Our CEO believes that people should be empowered to make decisions once they’re accountable to them. If you make a decision and it doesn’t go as planned, you’re accountable to it and people will support you to change the path. That comes from upper management at SurveyMonkey and trickles down. Avoiding the blame game is important.
What do you think is the biggest barrier for women looking to enter the tech industry?
I think it’s role models. Not seeing enough of them in the industry and not having access to them. That’s what my personal barrier was. I looked at that industry as a 19 year old in college and I thought only men go into engineering. I don’t want to be the only woman at work. That’s not interesting to me.
Shilpa Apte and the team at SurveyMonkey
How can companies overcome the skills shortage?
I think it starts with our education systems and supporting our educational bodies as much as possible. One way to make students enabled in technology is to make an intro to computer science class compulsory. I think it should be required as much as science. This is what we’re moving towards. In two decades I think everyone is going to be exposed to some form of coding. I think starting from a young age – giving people the skills they need to conceptualise what they need to be in that industry.
You’re speaking at Jobbio HIGHER, what can attendees look forward to from your keynote?
I’ll be speaking about what soft skills are required to work in tech and how effective collaboration can really accelerate your career.
What makes HIGHER such a valuable event?
I think it’s valuable to make connections and meet the people who are looking for jobs in the industry. Rather than searching tech companies on Google you’re getting to meet the team that have the power to hire you. That’s important.